With Twitter getting ready to go public, it seems pretty likely they'll end up in a feature race with Facebook, competing for the same users, and ultimately the same advertising dollars.
Meanwhile, as we all settle in on these networks, we're also settling -- missing features that would have been developed long ago if we were using open and competitive platforms. At some point the dam will break and there will be a flood of new ideas, or possibly a platform for trying out new social networking ideas.
1. For example, last night I was hanging out waiting for the World Series to start, and saw my friend Chuck posting on Facebook. I've been wanting to chat with him on Skype. So I sent him an email, and I launched the Skype app. I figured since he was already online, obviously just putzing around, he'd have time. I said the Skype would be "quick."
But a half hour later he hadn't responded. Now I'm wanting to do something else, so I'd like to retract the offer. But just then an IM comes saying. I heard the bells ring, but I couldn't figure out which of my networks was pinging me. On the possibility that it was Chuck, I launched Skype and he rang me and we had our conversation. An hour later I found the message in one of my tabs that was displaying GMail.
He was watching the football game. It hadn't crossed my mind, although I do what he's been doing when I'm watching a baseball or basketball game (I don't go in for football for some reason, unless it's the post-season and then usually just for the SuperBowl). In slow periods, during commercials, I play some Angry Birds or hassle Facebook or Twitter. I read my river. We have lots of ways of determining status, but none of them said "I'm Chuck and I'm putzing around while I'm watching a football game." I'm sure he wouldn't have minded me having that information. Had I known he was watching a game I would have known he isn't available to Skype.
2. Another use-case. I'm getting to know someone new and I can tell she's going to be a good friend. So after our meeting a couple of weeks ago, the question is -- how are we going to communicate. I see her on Facebook. But that isn't my preferred way to communicate, for a variety of reasons. Only after a few days of negotiating, in a total fog, we decide to use email. It seems that could have happened much more quickly.
3. I've been reading about a friend from long-ago who has two cats and a dog and is a prodigious gardener. Where does he live? What's his setup? Is it on top of a mountain, or in a valley? What does he plant? I know he goes fishing (from reading his Facebook posts) -- where?
4. I get a Twitter DM from a person I don't know saying he's going to be in NY next week and would like to buy me coffee. I'd like to tell Twitter not to accept such messages on my behalf unless they explain why they want to meet with me. I don't want to turn down a meeting with someone who has a purpose that interests me. But if I have no idea, then I'm a little frustrated -- it might be good, but I'm not going to respond. Also it would be nice to tell the person not to bother using Twitter for this, because it's not my preferred way to communicate. I find the 140-character limit too confining.
5. On the other hand, I'd like to be able to put a limit on the number of characters people can use in Disqus comments on my site. I don't want people using it as a blogging platform. I want to encourage them to start their own blogs, or use them if they're lying dormant. Comments are for quick short bits of information or perspective. As the word "comment" suggests.
6. In 1979, as I was driving into San Francisco from the north over the Golden Gate Bridge, I had a thought that I must know 20 people within line-of-sight from where I am right now, but I have no way of finding them. I left a marker for myself, that someday I'd have software that would tell me who is here and give me a way to contact them. This was one of my ways of saying I lived in "information impoverished" times. Do we now have that feature? Do they all have to be on Facebook and/or Foursquare for it to work? We certainly have the technical means for having that feature. But do we actually have it, or have silos interfered?
7. I think what's really needed is an easy to configure network system that has all the features of all the networks, and allows the user to set limits that suit them. Maybe even a form capability so right at the top they could ask you to state their objective, what action they would like me to perform, and for that 140 characters would definitely suffice.